Short-Sighted on Short-Term Missions?

There’s been a push back against Short-Term missions recently. Paul Washer in a Q&A session (video here) said this about short-term missions:

I literally just can’t understand the ideas that we have about missions. Sometimes I’ll walk through an airport in a foreign country and I’ll see 40 American teenagers or college students all with the same t-shirt on, they’re a christian group. You add it all up and they’ve spent about 80,000 dollars for their week and a half mission trip. It’s 40 of them. They’ve come down, they’ve preached the gospel that’s not really the gospel at all. They’ve done puppet shows. They’ve run around acting silly in their silly clothes and they go back and tell everybody a thousand people got saved, when in fact, probably almost no one got saved because all those people who made decisions don’t show up at church the next Sunday. Where that same amount of money could have put 25 Peruvian pastors on the field for an entire year where they speak the language, preaching the gospel 24 hours a day.

This isn’t anything groundbreaking. Many have come before Washer, and surely many will come after, berating High School and College students for wanting to go on a short-term missions trip. In essence, the argument is that we spend a vast amount of money for a few students (who may not have even been evaluated on spiritual maturity) to go, paint a building, talk to someone about Jesus, and then go home. This missions model, according to Washer and others, is unacceptable and unbiblical.

I understand this argument, and even have some significant sympathies for it. I spent two months in Scotland in the summer of 2012 with the PCA missions arm, Mission to the World (MTW). During my time there, it was extremely hard for me to connect deeply with that many people who weren’t believers, and share the Gospel with them. Quite frankly, it isn’t hard to wonder how much harder it would be for a two week missions trip. There’s no way my team would have been able to accomplish any one of the tasks we were given in a two week trip.

But, have we really looked at both sides of the issue?

When I recall my time in Scotland, I don’t think about how I impacted people. I don’t try to imagine how awesome I was, or how my team would have been ineffective without me (they definitely would have done better). What I think about is how that trip shaped me. That’s all I can think about, really. I don’t know the minds of the American team that went, the minister we spent the majority of our time with, or the young guys that I’m dying to see again (big shout out to John, Ewen, Iain, Niall, and Ally!). My perspective on my time in Scotland is centered around what Christ did for me, not what I did for Scotland or for Christ.

When we look at short-term missions, we’ve been short-sighted. We’ve focused less on the people going and more on the people they are going to. Why have we forgotten about the spiritual health of those going?

My next observation is this: why are we so worked up about the money?

Any penny spent for the spiritual growth of an individual is worth it. Let’s be concerned with stewardship, but not at the cost of growth. Are you, dear friend, more concerned with how the money is being spent that the growth of either the team or those they’re going to serve? If so, repent of your love of money. Rejoice and give gladly, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:6-7). We need to trust that God will give bountifully to those who sow bountifully (also 2 Cor. 9:6-7). When you donate money to a short-term missions trip, know that your money is going toward both the short-term missionary and where he/she is going.

In the end, my question in this debate about short-term missions is this: have we forgotten that the team that was sent needs Jesus, too? I’m not saying this is a slam dunk for why we should do short-term missions, but the focus seems to be 99.9999% on the place and people where the team is going. Christ is moving in both the lives of the recipients of the team, and the team itself!

So, whether you’re a fan of short-term missions or not, don’t forget that the team going needs Jesus, too. Don’t forget that our Father could use a short-term experience for the good of those going and those they go to. Don’t forget that the team going and those they’re going to serve are sinners, in desperate need of the grace and mercy that Jesus gives by the power of His death and resurrection. And for the love of heaven (seriously), don’t let money be the deciding factor in your opinion.